Israel announced Monday it was recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, joining the United States as the only countries to acknowledge the kingdom’s annexation of the disputed North African territory.
The announcement came shortly after Morocco’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying King Mohammed VI had received a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognizing Morocco’s claim over the territory.
Netanyahu’s office later confirmed the announcement. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan territory “will strengthen relations between the countries and the nations” and advance regional stability.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony believed to have considerable offshore oil deposits and mineral resources, in 1975, sparking a conflict with the pro-independence Polisario Front.
The U.N. brokered a 1991 cease-fire and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor the truce and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future. Disagreements over who is eligible to vote have prevented that vote from taking place.